Monday, May 26, 2008

Jones vs. Bond - Raiders of the Lost Ark

According to legend Steven Spielberg wanted to direct the 1980 James Bond movie. It ended up not happening and instead he started working on "Raiders of the Lost Ark". If Spielberg had tackled Bond, he would have to have followed "Moonraker" one of the most popular and financially successful James Bond films of the 70's and 80's. If you watch "Moonraker" and follow it with "Raiders" you'll be wondering just what Spielberg might have done.

"Moonraker" takes the mold of the Roger Moore Bond, and pushes it to the extreme. It meanders along, with a well coifed Bond moving through scenes that are fun, but hold little tension. The movie is very jokey (bordering on silly) and seems to be a well made Bond spoof. The ending is special effects extravaganza with lots of explosions models and the obligatory "Bond caught in the act" joke that was a favorite of the 70's spy films. Would this type of movie appeal to Spielberg? Or would he have tried to turn the Bond series around a little bit, bringing it back to the more gritty 60's Bond adventures like "From Russia with Love"?

When 1981 rolled around James Bond was back in "For Your Eyes Only". This movie had a new director behind the camera, but Roger Moore back in front of it. He plays the part with a harder edge. He is actually in danger in this film instead of going through the motions. Large special effects heavy set pieces are replaced with top notch stunt work, real locations and an intensity that had been missing from the Bond films since 1969. Strangely enough, this movie was not a hit. In fact most people don't remember "For Your Eyes Only". Maybe because viewers associated over the top antics of "The Spy Who Loved Me" or "Moonraker" with James Bond. Maybe they were disappointed with this return to the more realistic spy story. Or maybe it was because Spielberg beat them to the punch.

The week before "Raiders of the Lost Ark" exploded onto the screens. It seems that Spielberg wanted to make Indiana Jones the anti-bond in many ways. Indiana gets dirty, he gets hurt, he's often proven wrong, he cheats when he has to, he falls asleep when kissing the girl, and he ends up needing God to save his bacon. In addition, "Raiders" was a true thrill ride, going from one action set piece to the next (especially in the second half of the movie). There was humor in the film, but it wasn't bad puns and sight gags. It was sardonic wit and even gallows humor. Add to that, a crackling script, a wonderful score by John William's at the height of his theme-heavy style, and Spielberg use of the warm brown and gold hues, and the movie was a real pleasure to watch. Audience loved the film and watched it again and again. A new hero was born and he just about pushed James Bond out of the consciousness of 80's movie goers.

Of course there are some things to consider. James Bond started life as a spy, and his movies were usually based more of detective and suspense movie conventions. Even the more action packed adventures still held some mystery to them. When "Star Wars" arrived and began to shake up movie making with quick editing and special effects - "Moonraker" adapted by using the 70's Bond formula and injecting some glossy visuals into it. It also acknowledged that is was having fun with it's conventions and kept winking at the audience. Bond wasn't serious any more, and Roger Moore played it all very lightly.

On the other hand Indiana Jones was based on serial shorts that audiences enjoyed before a main feature. These "cliffhangers" were filled with nonsensical plots, but speedy action and plenty of chases and escapes. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg took that model, polished it up, added the anti-James Bond and suddenly you had a fresh new hero and an adventure that was thrilling enough to get people to come back again and again.

In a way "Raiders" legacy has influenced adventure and action movies since it's release. James Bond fell more and more into that mold (check out "Octopussy" and "Never Say Never Again" two Bond films released a couple of years after "Raiders"). This lasted up into the 1990's with the Brosnan tenure as 007. It's interesting to see that action movies started to swing the other way around the time of "The Matrix". Now action is elegant and brutally fast, and over the top violent. The hero's are now rough nasty anti-heroes. Even James Bond is a killer - less suave, but much more dangerous (and closer to his book persona than ever). Indiana Jones comes back and his cutting edge nature seems a bit old fashioned. But as they say, everything old becomes new again.

Do you think "Raiders" changed the course of action movies, or am I making this stuff up? Have you seen this type of change occur in books or other genre's of film? Who would win in a fight: Indiana Jones (of Raiders) or James Bond (of For Your Eyes Only)?

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